Header Item Humanitarian Aid Provision (Continued)
 Header Item Human Rights
 Header Item Undocumented Irish in the USA

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 910 No. 3

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Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Deputy Paul Murphy was not in the House and asked that Deputy Mick Barry take Question No. 6 on his behalf. Is that agreed?

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Which question is that?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Question No. 6. Is that agreed?

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan Are we going back to Question No. 6?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Question No. 6. It relates to human rights defenders. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Human Rights

 6. Deputy Paul Murphy Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan if he will recognise a person (details supplied) as a human rights defender and the measures he will take to ensure the person's safety and ability in going about lawful activities. [11948/16]

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan There is no procedure by which the Government confers recognition on persons as human rights defenders but protection of human rights defenders is a critical element of the protection of human rights anywhere. Rights and protections do not effectively exist if they cannot be invoked and defended on the ground.

The person in question is a leading advocate of the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions, BDS, against Israel, which is intended to pressure Israel into ending the occupation. While the Government does not itself support such a policy, it is a legitimate political viewpoint, albeit one regarded in Israel as deeply hostile.

I do not agree with attempts to demonise those who advocate this policy or to equate them with violent terrorists. I am not aware of any credible allegation that the individual in question has had any involvement in violence.

In this case, the outcome of this review of the subject's residency is not yet known, nor is it known whether it would withstand subsequent legal challenge. The non-renewal of the travel document seems to be pending the outcome of this review. The person has not asked for assistance from our embassy. Nonetheless, the EU delegation in Israel has asked for clarification of his position and we will follow all developments in the case.

More broadly, the issue of revocation of residence is one we have raised before with the Israeli authorities. I am deeply concerned about wider attempts to pressure NGOs and human rights defenders through legislation and other means to hinder their important work. We have raised this both at EU level and directly with the Israeli authorities.

It is, unfortunately, impossible to monitor and act on every case and Ireland's limited resources in the area are principally devoted to generic issues rather than individual cases. However, we seek also to promote action on individual cases through the EU delegation and the group of EU missions, avoiding duplication of effort, and by our support of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs active on justice and human rights issues.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry I thank the Minister for his reply. I would point out that in the case of Omar Barghouti, it is not merely a case of his travel documents not being renewed. His residency status is under review by the attorney general. There is a climate or an atmosphere that is very concerning in respect of the health and safety of this man and others who share his views. On 28 March 2016, an anti-BDS conference was held in Jerusalem at which a number of Israeli Government Ministers spoke, including Yisrael Katz, Minister of Transportation and Road Safety and Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, who called on Israel to engage in targeted civil eliminations of BDS leaders. This is a phrase well known in Israel as code for targeted assassinations. Is the Minister prepared to go so far as to say that the Government recognises and accepts that Omar Barghouti is a human rights defender?

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I ask the Deputy and other Members to recognise that there is a difficulty regarding this matter in so far as there is no definition of the term "human rights defender". I note that this individual's case is one that has been raised by Front Line Defenders, which is a highly respected NGO with which my Department works closely and whose bona fides I fully accept. As I outlined in my reply, my Department will monitor the ongoing developments in this case in conjunction with the EU delegation and as part of our broader engagement in support of the role of human rights defenders and the protection of civil society space.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry I listened carefully and I hear what the Minister is saying. I will frame the question in the following way. Omar Barghouti is recognised as a human rights defender by Amnesty International. Is the Minister prepared to say that this is something that the Government notes and gives serious and due consideration and weight to?

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan The Government has noted the Deputy's comments and the comments of international organisations in that regard but I remind the Deputy and the House that this case has only just emerged with the non-renewal of the travel documents of the person. This is the beginning of the review status and not the end. He will have legal opportunities to challenge any change in status.

More importantly, it is a key principle that intervention in the case of human rights defenders should be undertaken with their agreement or that of their representatives as outside intervention at an early stage is often counterproductive. Where the person continues to be at liberty and is able to communicate, we normally act at their request but we want to avoid duplication of effort in that regard. In this case, I advise the Deputy that the EU mission has inquired as to the facts of the case. That is the appropriate starting point and I would be happy to communicate with the Deputy at any stage to ensure the full process of information is fully and adequately considered in the circumstances.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

 10. Deputy Darragh O'Brien Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan if he plans discussions with the authorities in the United States of America given the ongoing concerns at the difficulties the undocumented Irish face and the concerns of their families at home; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [11904/16]

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Achieving relief for undocumented Irish migrants in the US and agreement on a facility for future legal migration between Ireland and the US remains a priority for the new Government. Our embassy in Washington and consulates elsewhere in the US are active in advocating immigration reform and the issue is also regularly addressed in high-level political contacts between Ireland and the US Government.

  While in Washington for St. Patrick's Day, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade met President Obama, Vice President Biden, House Speaker Ryan, Senator Charles Schumer and other key Congressional contacts from both sides of the aisle. During these meetings, they emphasised the plight of the undocumented Irish in the US and encouraged both Houses of Congress to work on a bipartisan basis towards a comprehensive package of immigration reform measures.

  In his speech at the House Speaker's lunch at Capitol Hill, the Taoiseach addressed the issues of immigration reform and urged Republicans and Democrats to work together to address the concerns of the undocumented Irish in the US. The Taoiseach also spoke of the need for improved legal migration channels for those Irish people who wish to live, work and develop their skills in the US for a time and emphasised the exceptional contribution made by Irish people to American society over the course of centuries of shared history.

  Our embassy in Washington continues to closely monitor the progress of the judicial case on President Obama's executive actions on immigration reform. This case, which was brought by a coalition of US states seeking an injunction against the executive action, has now reached the US Supreme Court and it is expected that the court will declare its decision next month. If the appeal succeeds and the measure is implemented, the executive action could benefit a significant number of our citizens by lifting the threat of deportation and allowing those undocumented immigrants who have been in the US for more than five years and who have children who are US citizens or legal permanent residents to work and travel more freely within the United States.

  Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

  The new Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and our embassy in Washington will continue to actively pursue all opportunities to advance immigration reform that would be of benefit to our citizens with the US Administration, both sides of the aisle in Congress and the US Embassy in Ireland.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Keeping the issue of the undocumented Irish at the top of the agenda is a priority for me and my party. Vice President Biden will be visiting this country shortly and every opportunity should be taken to raise the plight of the undocumented Irish, which is put at 50,000, although I think the number is significantly higher. We are all aware of what living undocumented means for a person and their family in terms of the restriction of travel and the unlawful presence bars introduced by US. A person who is regarded as having overstayed and who has left the US can be barred from returning for a period of between three and ten years. These elements need to be worked on. I ask the Government to outline a programme with regarding to a schedule of meetings. The St. Patrick's Day meetings and St. Patrick's week are important but from feedback I have received in the past, such engagement needs to be a constant.

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